Maximum City — Bombay Lost and Found: Brigade Book Review

Mehta, telling his story as a nostalgic ex-pat of India, approximates the art of being "in-between," of finding home in mobility, and finding truth in storytelling.

"There are many Bombays; through the writing of this book, I wanted to find mine."
- Suketu Mehta

Note: Throughout the piece, Mumbai and Bombay will be used interchangeably as a name for this city. Bombay was the original name, derived from the impressions of the Portuguese discovery of the paradisal island. They called it Bom bahia, Buon bahia, and Bombaim, all meaning “good bay.” Indians moved to change the name to Mumbai not as a method of decolonizing or de-anglicizing the name, but as a process of de-Islamicization, to erect the false notion of a decidedly Hindu state. Renaming became a trend for the Hindustani idealists.

Maximum City was written to unearth the secrets behind Mumbai, India’s principal, coastal metropolis. It does more than unearth. This wonderful book probes Mumbai with deft, poetic grace, exposing that cities are never cultural monoliths. I saw this first hand over the Winter, and this review will read much more like a journal entry because of this. It will be personal as well as exclusively critical. There is always a wealth of wisdom waiting to be unearthed in the knowledge of one’s cultural history, and I can’t not share all that I learned while reading this book on the plane into and out of Mumbai — where my parents grew up, lived and worked.

The book is written entirely off of Mehta’s journalistic inquisitiveness — it’s laden with exclusively illustrious interviews with menacing sahebs (regional Hindu/Muslim mob bosses), victims of religious violence, and jaundiced Bollywood celebs in their true, unidealized form. The term “saheb” actually used to refer to European subjects in Indian colonies, a representative word for British regality and Indians’ colonial servitude to their leaders. India is still dealing with its colonial past and the pitfalls of decolonization. In Maximum City, we learn a lot about how Brown skin relates to white in modern Mumbai, and how colonialism had added to the multiple heads of this city, embroiled in religious massacres with triple-digit casualties and an evil underworld that seems to rule over.